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Historic union win at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant

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22 April, 2024In a massive union win in the US South, workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have overwhelmingly voted to join the United Auto Workers (UAW). The victory is a significant milestone, as it was the last VW operation worldwide without a union.

Shawn Fain, president of UAW, expressed his enthusiasm and support for the workers at the Chattanooga plant. Meeting with the workers on the day of the vote, Fain emphasized the broader implications of their victory for labour across the nation. 

"I had a great time today meeting with Volkswagen workers as they journey on the path to victory of winning justice on the job! Workers in America are fed up with being left behind, and unions are the path to dignity on and off the job! Stand up, UAW VW!"

said Fain.

And following two unsuccessful votes since 2014, Volkswagen workers made history and voted yes to join UAW by 73 per cent. 

"Congratulations to the UAW workers at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, from the whole IndustriALL family of 50 million workers. Today you made history by becoming one of the very few unionized auto plant in the southern states. You are a long-awaited and extremely welcome addition to the family. With today's resounding victory, you have given hope and inspiration to millions all over the world,"

said Atle Høie IndustriALL general secretary.

US President Joe Biden publicly commended the workers at Volkswagen Chattanooga for their courage and determination. In his statement, he emphasized that the right to organize is a fundamental American value and critical to balancing the power between workers and employers, therefore fostering a fair economy.

"Every worker in every state must have a free and fair choice to join a union,"

The union win came after a complex and prolonged battle with company management, which failed to show the required neutrality for a very long time. The Chattanooga plant, employing thousands, has been at the centre of a tough fight for workers’ rights, bringing national attention to the struggles and potential of unionizing in the South.

Mercedes workers in Alabama, UAW

As Mercedes workers in Alabama prepare for their own union election in May, and in the lead up to the VW vote, governors from neighbouring states, including Alabama, voiced strong opposition in a public statement, with unfounded arguments that unions could jeopardize job creation and economic growth in the region.  

However, the persistent efforts of the UAW and its members promise to reshape trade unionism across the region. The success at Chattanooga is expected to have broader effects, potentially influencing labour policies and practices across the automotive industry and beyond. It highlights the increasing recognition of the importance of unions in ensuring fair treatment and equity at the workplace.

International solidarity was an important part in the campaign, with IndustriALL affiliate IG Metall and the VW Global Group Works Council playing key roles. They closely monitored the unionization process and quickly stepped in when they saw any anti-union actions by VW management. Their vigilance and fast action helped ensure a fair setting for the workers to vote on forming a union. 

“This teamwork shows how strong global solidarity is essential for advancing labour rights and how international allies can help local efforts push back against corporate challenges. This victory is not just a win for the workers at VW but hope for millions of workers across the country, proving that persistence and solidarity can pave the way for significant improvement in workers' rights and justice on the job, not least for our brothers and sisters at the MB plant in Alabama who get to have their say on union membership next month,”

says Georg Leutert, IndustriALL automotive director.